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Congenital heart disease: Causes Symptoms And Treatment

Posted On: January 13, 2020


Congenital heart disease is one of several deformities in the heart, which in most cases, people are born with. It is a broad term used for a range of deficiencies that occur during birth which typically affect the functions of the heart. It is a condition that is present right from birth.

Such defects that are mostly common in little children can affect the proper circulation of blood through the heart. Heart disease can be simple, with little or no problems. It can also be more complicated defects e.g. a hole in the heart, which could cause serious threats to life.

For most pregnant women, doctors can detect the problem during pregnancy through an ultrasound scan, while in many cases; the defects could go unnoticed until after birth. Unfortunately, large number of babies born with a defect in the heart did not live to see their first birthday.

Advanced techniques in diagnosis and latest treatment sophistication have resulted in many babies born with congenital heart disease surviving into adulthood. Although, the condition may resurface later in life, even with those who had received treatment during childhood.

If you have congenital heart defect, you might continue to need medical attention for the rest of your life. If you are having bothersome symptoms of congenital heart disease such as chest pain or shortness of breath, you need to seek immediate medical care.

Types of congenital heart disease

There are numerous types of congenital heart disease and more than one type can occur together at a time. Some common types of defects may include:

  • Coarctation of the aorta – this is a condition where the main large artery in the body, known as the aorta, is thinner than normal
  • pulmonary valve stenosis – this is a condition where the pulmonary valve, which regulates the blood flow from the heart chamber to the lungs, is thinner than normal
  • Supraventricular tachycardia – this is where the heart abnormally beats faster than normal, typically due to improper electrical activity in the upper part of the heart.
  • Aortic stenosis – the most common heart disease where blood flow is restricted from the left ventricle to the aorta
  • Hypoplastic left heart – is an unusual congenital heart defect where the left side of the heart is severely underdeveloped making it difficult for the heart to pump enough blood around the body
  • septal defects – usually referred to as a “hole in the heart”, this is a condition where a hole is developed between two of the heart’s chambers
  • transposition of the arteries – this is a condition where the pulmonary arteries and aortic valves have swapped connected positions
  • tricuspid atresia – this is where the tricuspid heart valve is either missing or abnormally formed. This causes a blockage to the blood flow between the heart chambers.

Causes of congenital heart disease

In most cases, it is difficult to identify why certain things go wrong at the early stage of a fetus’ development. Some heart conditions have been blamed on defective genes or chromosomes.

If a family has history of congenital heart disease, a mother having poorly controlled diabetes during pregnancy, or a pregnant woman is taking certain medications e.g. anticoagulants or some acne medicines, a newborn may be at a higher risk of developing congenital heart disease.

Other causes may include a pregnant mother having certain types of infection, such as rubella. Down’s syndrome is another genetic condition that affects a baby’s normal somatic development.

Heart disease in children had also been linked with the mother drinking alcohol or smoking during pregnancy.

Some cases of congenital heart disease are detected during pregnancy and before birth via an ultrasound scan. However, it is not always possible to detect all such defects in this way. Some defects may not be revealed until the child is older or even an adult.

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Symptoms of congenital heart disease

Congenital heart disease in children can have varied symptoms because every child has different physical conditions and medical needs. Most common types of symptoms include:

  • swelling of the legs, belly or on the face
  • tiredness and rapid breathing when a baby is feeding
  • extreme tiredness and fatigue
  • poor feeding
  • excessive sweating
  • rapid heartbeat
  • rapid or breathing problems
  • chest pain and a blue tinge to the skin

You may need a specialist’s attention if symptoms of congenital heart disease are suspected at your 20-week pregnancy ultrasound scan. If a congenital heart defect is confirmed, a detailed information would normally be provided with approaches to treatment and long-term effects. The good news is that, some heart defects can be detected and treated in the womb before the birth.

A specialist would typically monitor the conditions of the mother before, during and after the birth. If you notice any of these symptoms in your child, you should seek medical attention.

Treatment of congenital heart disease

Existing or apparent medical conditions and the nature of the heart disease in both adult and children will ultimately determine the type of treatment the doctors will provide. The severity of the heart condition will also define the treatment. Mild form of congenital heart disease diagnosed in babies does not usually need any treatment. Minor problems such as holes in the heart may improve over time without treatment and children can cope very well without any further health risk because of the heart condition.

In some more serious cases of heart diseases, medication or heart surgery may be required. Some form of interventional procedures may be required for significant heart defects which in most cases give rise to other health problems. Contemporary surgical procedures can often fix most or all the heart’s routine function.

Though, patients with congenital heart disease may require regular treatment for their entire life and therefore need medical expert assessment during childhood and later life. This is more important for people with severe heart problems because epileptic heartbeat or valves can cause further problems over time.

Heart surgeries and interventional procedures do not always provide permanent cure to heart diseases. The affected people may have limited ability in performing exercises or any other rigorous activities. It is therefore essential that they regularly consult with their medical practitioner and take caution in protecting themselves from getting heart infections.

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Your heart structure

Your heart is separated into 4 major segments known as chambers. The heart uses the right and the left chambers differently to

pump blood through the body. These chambers are called:

  • left atrium (which collects blood that are coming from the lungs)
  • left ventricle (this is the primary blood pumping chamber for the body)
  • right atrium (this chamber is where the blood returning from the body’s veins are collected)
  • right ventricle (this chamber pumps bloods to the lungs)

There are four valves which regulate the flow of blood through the heart and the entire body. These are called the:

  • mitral valve (this valve separates the left atrium from the left ventricle)
  • aortic valve (this controls the flow of blood between the left ventricle and the primary artery, which is the aorta)
  • tricuspid valve (this valve is located between the right atrium and the right ventricle)
  • pulmonary valve (this valve regulates the blood flow between the right ventricle and the pulmonary artery to the lung)

If any of these heart sections or valves does not develop properly while a baby is forming in the womb, the situation could lead to a congenital heart disease.

Later life complications

Some severe complications might develop later in life even after the initial treatment of congenital heart disease. These complications may include:

  • Irregular heartbeats (known as arrhythmias). Arrhythmias occur when the electrical pressures that regulate heart rhythms don’t function appropriately, this may cause the heart to beat too fast, too slowly or erratically. In some cases, serious arrhythmias may lead to unexpected cardiac death if left untreated.
  • Heart infection (known as endocarditis). The heart is made up of four sections and four valves, the walls of which are coated with a thin membrane known as the endocardium. An infection known as Endocarditis may develop in this membrane, which usually arises when bacteria enter the bloodstream and pitch tent in the heart. If endocarditis is left untreated, it can harm the heart valves or cause a stroke.

For people with an imitation heart valve, or those whose heart had been restored with prosthetic substance, or the heart defect was not completely treated, antibiotics might be prescribed for a long time to reduce the risk of having endocarditis.

  • Stroke. Stroke occurs when there is a shortage of blood supply to a part of the brain, denying the brain tissue of the oxygen required to function well. A congenital heart disease can cause a blood clot to pass through the heart to the brain and lead to a stroke. Some heart arrhythmias may increase the risk of blood clot forming in the bloodstream and leading to a stroke.
  • Congestive Heart failure. Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood required for the body to function properly. Some kinds of congenital heart defect for example, Hypoplastic left heart can lead to heart failure. Other severe medical conditions like high blood pressure or coronary artery disease may progressively drain the heart of its strength, making it too weak to pump blood productively.
  • Pulmonary hypertension. A kind of high blood pressure which impacts negatively on the arteries in the lungs. Certain types of congenital heart disease can cause excessive blood flow into the lungs, which can cause pressure to build up and make the heart work harder than normal. This in most cases can lead to the weakness and failure of the heart muscle.

Congenital heart disease comes in different types with a wide range or combination of symptoms that may suggest you or your child is affected. Treatment for this defect is determined by the medical condition and some other factors about the affected person. The disease can resurface later in life even after being treated as a child and it can lead to other complications if medical attention is not sought immediately.

As far as your health is concerned, your doctor is your best friend and never hesitate to speak out if you notice anything unusual or having any of the symptoms of congenital heart disease.

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